Charting a New Course

“The thing you are going to have to offer, that no one else has to offer, is the thing you are most passionate about.”

When Jessica DuLong lost her dot-com job in 2001, she left the high floors of her Empire State building office for a rusting underwater engine room. Using the cushion of unemployment checks, she began apprenticing on the John J. Harvey, a historic fireboat built in 1931. Today, she is the chief engineer of that boat, which was retired in 1999 but was called back into service on Sept. 11 to pump water to the World Trade Center. It currently operates as a nonprofit out of Pier 60.

DuLong, a female working in a non-traditional career, says her crew has always welcomed her, but that she has experienced everything from “curious looks to inappropriate physical contact to really offensive sexual harassment,” from the outside world. In 2010, she authored My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work that Built America and she continues to write and speak during the boat’s off season.

A Run on the John J. Harvey

By the Numbers

The graphics below compare the salary of DuLong’s non-traditional career (marine engineering) with the six leading female occupations from the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau. Females in marine engineering are paid a higher wage, but make up a much smaller percentage of their occupation. This data confirms DuLong’s assertion that occupations dominated by men “are much better paying than the ones that are dominated by women.”

Percentage of Women Employed as Marine Engineers vs. Traditional Female Careers

Median Wage of Women in Marine Engineering vs. Traditional Female Careers

Sources: Marine Engineers and Naval Architects in the United States, 2007; Population Reference Bureau, November 2008; 20 Leading Occupations of Employed Women, 2010 Annual Averages, U.S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau.